How to Celebrate a Merry Smoky Mountain Christmas

The Smoky Mountains are a traveler favorite in the warmer months, but countless Christmas festivities also make the region a must-visit winter destination. Sevierville, Pigeon Forge and Gatlinburg are popular towns on the Tennessee side, while Asheville and Bryson City are big draws on the North Carolina side. Here are 12 ways you can experience an idyllic mountain Christmas in the Smokies.

Photo By: Gatlinburg Convention and Visitors Bureau

Photo By: Gatlinburg Convention and Visitors Bureau

Photo By: Shutterstock/Nicole Le

Photo By: Dollywood

Photo By: Pigeon Forge Department of Tourism

Photo By: Pigeon Forge Department of Tourism

Photo By: Sevierville CVB

Photo By: Robert Bohrer

Photo By: Bryson City NC Swain County Chamber of Commerce

Photo By: Bryson City NC Swain County Chamber of Commerce

Photo By: Biltmore

Photo By: Blackberry Farm

Annual Fantasy of Lights Christmas Parade, Gatlinburg

Gatlinburg takes Christmas seriously and goes all out with its Annual Fantasy of Lights Christmas Parade. 2018 will mark the parade’s 43rd time, and the downtown affair is filled with floats, marching bands, dancers and balloon characters. The event goes down on December 7th, and previous years have drawn some 60,000 attendees, making it the largest parade in the area. If you don’t feel like jockeying for a prime position on the sidewalk, you can also buy tickets for bleacher seating.

Trolley Ride of Lights, Gatlinburg

Besides the parade, Gatlinburg goes all out with lighting the downtown Parkway and placing displays throughout the area, from deer and rabbits to snowmen and rocking horses. The Trolley Ride of Lights is conducted along the route three times a night, allowing everyone to ooh, aah and Instagram the twinkly scenes during the 45-minute excursion.

Crockett's Breakfast Camp, Gatlinburg

Kick off Christmas Day with a proper Southern feast at Crockett’s Breakfast Camp, a rustic recreation of 19th-century life. The restaurant is named after local frontiersman David "Crockett" Maples, who became known for serving the best breakfast in the Smokies. Decide for yourself from a gluttony of choices: The largest portions arrive in a cast-iron skillet, filled with biscuits, grits, eggs and pecan-smoked bacon. None of the dishes can really be considered small though, whether it’s the super thick griddle cakes or the impressive cathead stacker (an egg sandwich on a biscuit) with a side of corn pone. The list goes on, but do save room for the gigantic fried cinnamon rolls.

Smoky Mountain Christmas, Pigeon Forge

There might be an unwritten law that you can’t visit the Smokies without going to Dollywood, Dolly Parton’s theme park in Pigeon Forge. (Parton grew up in neighboring Sevierville.) The sprawling theme park offers more than 40 rides across its 10 sections, and a new Wildwood Grove addition will open in 2019. Dollywood especially excels at Christmas, complete with holiday musicals (Christmas in the Smokies is a long-running favorite), a float-filled parade and even an old-fashioned chapel where you can attend Christmas services. New for 2018 is a winter wonderland section, Christmas light show and yet more lights meant to invoke an aurora borealis vibe. Actually, the entire park features more than five million lights this time of year, jockeying for bragging rights in a region known for its light displays.

Hatfield & McCoy Christmas Dinner Disaster, Pigeon Forge

Smoky Mountain holiday shows are a huge attraction this time of year, and where else can you see anything like the Hatfield and McCoy Christmas Disaster? As the name implies, everybody’s favorite feuding family tries to make nice during Christmas in this slapstick musical, and surprise surprise, shenanigans ensue. Since this is dinner theater, you get to enjoy the spectacle while putting away every Southern comfort dish, checking off fried chicken, pulled pork barbeque, corn on the cob, coleslaw and mashed potatoes.

Pigeon Forge Winterfest 2018, Pigeon Forge

Pigeon Force joins the competitive light display arena with its own blinged-out version, where more than five million lights cover everything from the train station to a 60-foot-tall tree. This handy guide to the Pigeon Forge Winterfest 2018 facilitates a self-driving tour to see as many of the 24 attractions as you can.

Shadrack’s Christmas Wonderland, Sevierville

We’re not done with lights yet. Shadrack’s Christmas Wonderland is essentially a choreographed light routine set to music that visitors drive through, filled with thousands of LED lights. It’s also incredibly popular, with Friday, Saturday and Sunday nights attracting long lines. However, off-peak times mean that you can likely see the entire spectacle in about an hour. The grounds also feature Santa’s Village, with crafts, deep-fried s’mores and yes, Santa.

Rent a Cabin

For many, renting a log cabin in the Smoky Mountains is the best way to soak up the Appalachian scenery, and winter brings the chance of snow at the higher elevations. Many sites offer all manner of log cabin living, from basic to the truly luxurious. Airbnb and TripAdvisor are good places to start, and even Dollywood offers a range of cabins.

Bryson City

The Christmas action isn’t limited to the Tennessee side of the Great Smoky Mountains. Bryson City holds its own with a 75-foot-tall Christmas tree in the town square, no shortage of holiday lights, and most famously, the Polar Express train. The Appalachian toymaker (pictured) is also unique to the area, and kids can watch him make wooden toys just across the train. Plus, kids can write letters to Santa at the Visitor Center while indulging in cookies and hot chocolate. Among other area highlights are evening hayrides at Darnell Farms, or paint Christmas ornaments during the day. The small town of Dillsboro, just 20 minutes outside of Bryson City, celebrates an old-fashioned Christmas with carolers, horse and buggy rides, a live Nativity scene, Santa and about 2,500 luminaries beckoning the way to shops. Hot chocolate and apple cider may also be involved.

Polar Express Train, Bryson City

The Polar Express train is de rigueur for families with small kids (and train aficionados), as the Great Smoky Mountains Railroad steam train recreates the beloved Polar Express story by Chris Van Allsburg. Like the book, the train chugs toward the "North Pole" where Santa awaits with sleigh bells for all the kiddies. The roundtrip excursion departs from Bryson City, and all cabin classes receive hot chocolate and a warm cookie during the hour-and-a-half-long ride. Wearing pajamas is optional, but encouraged.

Christmas at Biltmore, Asheville

You can bet that the largest home in the U.S. (let’s be honest, Biltmore is really a castle) spares no expense when it comes to holiday decor. This means more than 55 Christmas trees — all outdone by the 35-foot-tree in the Banquet Hall and a 55-foot-tree on the front lawn — along with about 8,000 feet of garland, 30,000 lights and almost 500 wreaths. Daytime admission includes wine tastings at the estate’s winery as well as access to Antler Hill Village (the grounds cover 8,000 acres). But the self-guided Candlelight Christmas Evening tour helps to conjure an earlier era (albeit with electric candles) while performers entertain with Christmas carols.

Blackberry Farm, Walland

If you’ve ever dreamt of experiencing a simpler way of life in the Great Smoky Mountains without sacrificing any creature comforts, the nationally-renowned Blackberry Farm makes that possible. For example, dining options go beyond farm to table, with a dedicated forager, cheesemaker, butcher, baker and more contributing to each meal. Year-round activities are another standout, and Christmas brings Gingerbread house workshops, cookie decorating, hot chocolate, roaring fires and tasteful holiday decor. Although wandering the 4,200-acre farm after a fresh snowfall may be the simplest winter pleasure of them all.

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